A symbiotic connection between Lewis Winter and the Roller McNutt Funeral Home has endured for 70 years, a record that bids fair to be noted in record books.
It has been a time of fulfillment and growth for Winter, who developed into a respected and knowledgeable funeral director.
“It has been a wonderful time for me, and I wish I could do it all over again,” Winter said in an effusive outpouring of sentiment.
He led his funeral home with a light but sensitive vein, building facilities in 27 locations in Arkansas and one in Memphis. In addition, Roller McNutt built Crestlawn Cemetery in the environs of Conway.
Winter was a 15-year-old youngster, totally unlearned when he left his uncle’s farm in Greenbrier after the crops had been laid in. His sharecropper father was off to Marche to work in munitions for the war effort, leaving young Lewis Winter bereft of home and work.
Life got even more challenging when he set his sights toward Conway. It now behooved him to hustle up a job, and he found one in a print shop in Conway that was owned by Edgar Parker who was to become mayor of Conway anon. Twenty-five cents an hour was the going rate of pay for Winter, quite insufficient for room and board.
Fate was to intervene soon, however.
It was Winter’s custom to walk home past the funeral home on Locust Street. There he saw employees decked out in dark suits and ties, black shoes and all the amenities of a dark hue. Winter’s fancy succumbed to such finery and he vowed to get a job at the funeral home.
He eschewed sports and games that captivated many young boys and centered his ambitions on work. His insistence paid off when he was offered menial work. He quickly moved up, became a driver, and his future seemed to be assured.
And it was. Little did he know he had found his life’s work. Now he had a black suit and all the trimmings that found their way onto a funeral director’s costume.
“I had the good fortune of being helped along the way by Mayor Parker and Misters Roller and McNutt,” he said the other day during a conversation in the tastefully decorated Roller McNutt Funeral Home board room.
This was Lewis Winter’s home away from home. He was completely absorbed with the funeral home’s trappings and mission and wearing the funeral home director’s garb. He apologized for some glitches in his speech, the result of a minor stroke, but he appeared not at all to be impaired.
It has been the notion of the visitors that Winter was prepared to make an announcement of his retirement. He has been with the funeral home since Aug. 1, 1943, and it was assumed that he had reached that point in time when he would turn his thoughts to other pursuits.
“Why no, I’m not thinking of retirement,” he said almost annoyed by the mention of it.
Instead he launched into conversation about funerals of another time. “When $200 to $500 paid for a funeral. Mr. McNutt regularly directed services and visited the families of the deceased himself.”
For most families, the deceased remained at home until the funeral service Winter said. “Back then, people did not have transportation to come back and forth to the funeral home.”
Another peculiar aspect of funerals had pallbearers dig and fill the graves. Modern day funeral homes provide this service.
Perpetual care maintenance is a vital aspect of the best cemeteries Roller McNutt believes. Here mandatory cement grave lines are used to prevent the ground from settling around the casket. Crestlawn Memorial Park, founded by McNutt in 1959, requires these liners.
The funeral home, now located at 8th Avenue and Vine Street was established on the east side of Conway in 1978. The funeral home added “Roller” to its name in 1987 at the request of Denver Roller, Inc., a family-operated company. The late Denver W. Roller purchased the funeral home in 1968.
During his recent recitation, Lewis turned the conversation to the people who were instrumental in his career.
“I don’t know what it was that brought me to their attention — people like Mayor Parker, Mr. Roller and Mr. McNutt and the many friends who guided me through the funeral home business, but whatever it was I will remain eternally grateful,” he said.